BERLIN: While Olivier Giroud fights to start for Chelsea, his France place looks rock solid heading toward the European Championship next year.
By which time he might well have overtaken Michel Platini in France’s scoring charts.
Giroud took his international tally to 36 with the second goal in Group ‘H’ leaders France’s 4-1 home win against Albania in qualifying for Euro 2020 on Friday. Only France greats Platini with 41 and Thierry Henry with 52 have more goals for Les Bleus.
Yet Giroud is not always in favour with Chelsea despite the veteran striker finishing as top scorer in last season’s Europa League with 11 as the London-based club won it to qualify for the Champions League.
It’s a different story for Harry Kane because he continues to be an undisputed star for club and country.
His hat trick in a 4-0 home win against Bulgaria ensured England’s third straight win in qualifying and moved them on top of Group ‘A’ ahead of Kosovo, who beat the Czech Republic 2-1 at home.
World Cup semi-finalists England are unbeaten in 11 matches against Bulgaria, who are last in Group ‘A’ with two points.
Also, defending champions Portugal won at Serbia 4-2, with the ever-prolific Cristiano Ronaldo grabbing his team’s third goal.
At Stade de France, France maintained their unbeaten run in home European Championship qualifiers since 2010.
Albania’s players were stunned when the wrong national anthem was played beforehand, delaying the start by nearly 10 minutes until the correct one was played.
“It was a big thing. The players said they wouldn’t start without the right anthem,” said Albania’s Italian coach Edoardo Reja.
Once the action started, Kingsley Coman celebrated his second and third France goals in what has been an injury-hit international career since bursting onto the scene at Euro 2016.
After Coman opened the scoring early on, Giroud finished off a fine move involving strike partner Antoine Griezmann and left back Lucas Hernandez to put France further ahead.
Albania had trouble containing the runs of Hernandez, who drew a foul to earn a penalty in the 36th. Griezmann strode confidently but went for power over placement and smacked the ball against the crossbar.
Giroud and Griezmann combined expertly to set up Coman’s second goal in the 68th. Coman cushioned a pass and spun neatly around a defender before caressing the ball in.
It was a dream debut for Jonathan Ikon, coming off the bench to score late after a superb flick pass from fellow substitute Nabil Fekir.
Albania grabbed a last-minute consolation from the penalty spot.
Didier Deschamps’ side top Group ‘H’ on goal difference from Turkey and Iceland, with the sides locked on 12 points.
“The balance sheet is very positive. We could have won by more,” said Deschamps. “We did what we had to do, even if we relaxed a bit at the end.”
Turkey left it late to beat Andorra 1-0, thanks to midfielder Ozan Tufan’s 89th-minute header in Istanbul.
Euro 2016 quarter-finalists Iceland beat Moldova 3-0 at home in their first meeting. Striker Kolbeinn Sigthrsson netted in the first half; midfielder Birkir Bjarnason and forward Jn Dadi Bdvarsson scored after the break.
Kane has now scored 25 goals in 40 England appearances after a 25th-minute tap-in and two second half penalties which keep his side top of Group ‘A’ with nine points from three matches, a point ahead of Kosovo.
Captain Kane also laid on Raheem Sterling for his strike 10 minutes after the break, highlighting his ability beyond just goalscoring.
“To be able to study him and the way he works at his game, for the youngsters he’s an incredible example. In those moments he has supreme temperament and technique,” Southgate said of Kane.
England will have a chance to open up a gap at the top of the group when they host Kosovo at St Mary’s stadium in Southampton on Tuesday.
Kosovo are 15 games unbeaten following a comeback home win against the Czechs.
The Czechs took the lead through forward Patrik Schick’s 16th-minute goal but were pegged back four minutes later by midfielder Vedat Muriqi.
Kosovo’s winner came midway through the second half when defender Mergim Vojvoda stroked the ball in from a low corner.
Ronaldo took his astonishing tally of international goals to 89 with the third in Portugal’s win in Belgrade.
After opening with two home draws, Portugal grabbed a vital win considering Group ‘B’ leaders Ukraine won easily.
Midfielder William Carvalho put Portugal ahead late in the first half and Gonalo Guedes thumped home in the 58th.
Defender Nikola Milenkovic pulled one back midway through the second half at Stadion Rajko Mitic, before Ronaldo latched onto Bernardo Silva’s pass in the 80th.
Powerful striker Aleksandar Mitrovic replied in the 85th only for Silva to make it 4-2 one minute later.
Unbeaten Ukraine won at Lithuania 3-0 and lead with 13 points having played two more games than second-placed Portugal on five.
Oleksandr Zinchenko scored Ukraine’s first goal early on, with Brazilian-born Marlos and his fellow midfielder Ruslan Malinovskyi adding the other goals.
On Tuesday, Portugal have a chance to consolidate their position in the group when they head to winless Lithuania, while Serbia travel to lowly Luxembourg with both a point behind Ronaldo and co.
Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2019